GREENSBORO, N.C. — Top-ranked Baylor was simply too much for the Iowa women’s basketball team Monday night.
The Hawkeyes’ deepest postseason run in 26 years ended with a humbling 85-53 loss to the Lady Bears in the finals of the Greensboro regional, one game shy of a coveted Final Four berth.
Ultimately, Baylor proved to be too strong on the boards, too good on defense and too determined to earn its own first Final Four berth since 2012 for the Hawkeyes to have a chance of ending the Lady Bears’ win streak which has now reached 27 games.
Iowa was out-rebounded 47-26, outscored in the paint 52-24 and frustrated by a defense which held the nation’s top shooting team to a 32.1-percent game from the field.
The Hawkeyes’ effort was more than 20 percent below the team’s season shooting average and the first time during Iowa’s 29-7 season the team had shot less than 41 percent from the field.
“I told the team that I’m not going to define our season by the last 40 minutes,’’ Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “I don’t think we played our best game. Did Baylor have something to do with it? Absolutely, but I just wish we could have shown a little bit more of Iowa basketball.’’
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey credited her team’s defense for making the deciding difference.
“Nobody likes to be guarded for 40 minutes. It’s work. It’s hard,’’ Mulkey said, praising the work of defensive stopper DiDi Richards. “What we know coming into a game is that we can defend you and we’re going to give everything we have on the defensive end of the floor.’’
As was the case in all but two of Iowa’s 36 games, senior Megan Gustafson led the Hawkeyes in scoring.
She became just the fourth women’s basketball player in NCAA Division I history to collect 1,000 points in a season, reaching that mark with the 22nd of her game-high 23 points on a basket with 3 minutes, 20 seconds remaining.
“They were throwing extra people at me and they knew I was a pretty good rebounder, but they had a bit of a size advantage that made it tougher,’’ said Gustafson, who hit 9 of 17 shots. “… I just tried to do my job and work hard every single day.’’
Gustafson was denied a chance to claim sole possession of the NCAA single-season double-double record of 33 she tied in Saturday’s semifinal win over North Carolina State.
She led Iowa with nine boards, but mirroring the team’s struggles on the glass was unable to grab a single rebound in the second half as the Lady Bears extended a 14-point halftime advantage and turned 14 offensive rebounds into a 20-6 advantage in second-chance points.
“We just tried to limit her touches and do whatever we could,’’ Baylor forward Lauren Cox said. “She’s a good player, she’s going to get her points, but we just couldn’t let that second and third player go off for them.’’
Baylor separated itself from the Hawkeyes with runs late in the first and second quarters, opening a 41-27 lead by halftime which went unchallenged a third quarter which saw Iowa hit just 3-of-13 shots.
In an opening quarter which began with Gustafson scoring the game’s first points, a pair of follow-ups by the Lady Bears left Iowa with an early deficit.
A Kathleen Doyle steal at midcourt and lay-in tied the game at 11-11 with 4:37 remaining in first, but the Hawkeyes hit just one of their next 10 shots and as Baylor opened a 23-13 lead when Chloe Jackson scored the first basket of the second quarter.
Iowa connected on just one of its final eight shots in the first half and failed to score from the field over the final 7:15 of the third quarter while the Bears built a lead which grew to 65-42 heading into the final quarter of the Hawkeyes’ season.
“We had too many long droughts,’’ Bluder said. “I thought Megan did her part, but I said coming into the game we needed everybody to contribute and unfortunately we didn’t get a lot of contributions from other people. They gave it their all, worked as hard as they could, but we just didn’t get it done.’’
Tania Davis and Doyle were the only other Hawkeyes to score in double figures, finishing with 10 points apiece.
Cox led four Baylor starters in double figures with a 22-point performance that was complemented by 16 points by Richards.